Western United Head Coach Mark Rudan has lauded his club's "massive" achievement in qualifying for finals football in their first A-League season.
Barring a catastrophic collapse, Western are now set to play finals football following their 2-0 win over Perth Glory on Wednesday night: so long as they don't ship 15 goals in their two remaining fixtures and fall below seventh-placed Adelaide United.
Rudan’s side becomes the third new A-League club to qualify for finals football in their inaugural season, replicating the success of Gold Coast United and Western Sydney Wanderers.
After the key win over Glory, Rudan paid tribute to those who had worked towards what the coach said was a “massive” achievement.
“People don’t understand the amount of work that went on behind the scenes to create this club,” he said.
“I’ve got to pay special mention to Lou Sticca and Steve Horvat who, for a long time, worked behind the scenes to get this up and running. To our chairman, our board and our CEO Chris [Pelihvanis].
"All these guys have been superb in starting the club and being there for us doing all they can to provide a good environment and put structures in the club.
“We’re only going to get better, but I think it’s a huge achievement for a new club. We didn’t have a training field; we’ve had to move around all season from Geelong to Ballarat. So, it’s been really tough.
“It’s one little step in our journey and there’s a lot more to go. It’s a great first chapter in the history of this football club to be playing finals in its first year.”
With two games remaining against Sydney at Leichhardt Oval on August 15 and Melbourne City at Jubilee Stadium on August 19, Western can theoretically finish third on the A-League ladder if other results go their way.
However, with no home ground advantage from a higher finish due to the coronavirus-enforced NSW-based finals, the only carrot remaining in front of Rudan’s side is the potential to hand-select their finals opponents.
“I don’t think it’s a matter of trying to dictate who we’re playing in the finals,” the Western coach said. “Everyone in the top six deserves to be there and they’re all good teams, we’re not going to be picking and choosing.
"We’re in the finals now, we might as well go for it, but I’ve got to be smart in making sure we look after certain players.
“I haven’t made too many changes in the first four games and it was quite difficult for us – we were one of a few teams that had to play six games in this period.
“We knew just how hard it was to qualify for finals and Adelaide made our job harder by picking up those eight points.
“It’s [now] about reassessing where we’re at, chatting with the players and putting still a very competitive team out there.
"We’ve got some young players that have been working extremely hard and waiting for their opportunity and I’ve got a lot of faith in them. You’ll see some new faces in the next two games.
“We’ve got to be really smart with how we do things because we’ve got a three-day turnaround, a three-day turnaround and then three days again before our first finals game.”